The Midway Postcard Gallery Volume 5 November/December 2010
Due to the busy holiday season I have posted this installment for both November and December. I will return to a monthly format in January.
We begin this month’s column in the Hoosier state of Indiana at a small park called The Enchanted Forest Amusement Park in Chesterton, IN. This is a 1960’s era chrome postcard. This park doesn’t hold much interest for me, but the ride this postcard depicts does. Called the “Swinging Gym” in Indiana, I knew this ride as “The Flying Cages”, at the park I grew up near, Lincoln Park in North Dartmouth, MA. One or two people would get in each cage, and by working together (or with the movement of the cage if alone), you could get the cages to go around repeatedly. This card has the best close up image of this defunct(?) ride that I’ve ever seen.
Astute gapingmediahole readers may recognize this next Indiana icon, the Santa Claus statue at what is now Holiday World, but what was known when this linen card was printed as Santa Claus Land, in Santa Claus Indiana. Not many people have traveled to Santa Claus, but I’ve been there three times. The park is run by the nicest owners you can imagine, and you should see how well they get their many teenage employees to behave. It’s a problem at many parks, but Holiday World knows what they’re doing. They have three top notch roller coasters. They also have free soda, and suntan lotion. Check them out, it’s well worth it.
I don’t have many cards from Iowa, only two in fact. The other is from Arnolds Park, and is a nice, unspectacular chrome general view. This is a nicer card, however, from Riverview Park in Des Moines, showing the roller coaster turnaround to the right, as well as the bathhouse, bathing beach, and water slide as well. This card was posted in 1930.
Until Six Flags sunk their talons into Jazzland, turning it into the doomed Six Flags New Orleans, Louisiana hadn’t had a major amusement park since the demise of Ponchartrain Beach in 1983. This aerial view shows the roller coaster, named Zephyr, as well as other amusements and buildings along the shoreline. Six Flags New Orleans fell victim to Hurricane Katrina, but Ponchartrain Beach closed due to neglect and lack of local support.
Heading northeast from Louisiana, we go to Maine, and to a small amusement park just outside Portland, Maine, called Riverton Park. My wife’s brother, our sister in-law, and our nephew live a short drive away from where this majestic roller coaster, The Riverton Flyer once stood. This is a rare card, as I’ve only seen it twice in my years of collecting. It’s always nice when a view like this offers more than a side view, and shows you much more of the ride from its interior.
A little south of Portland, also along the shore line is a place long popular with Mainers, as well as a staggering number of French Canadians in their banana hammock swimwear. This grape snuggling magnet is called Old Orchard Beach. Mostly an amusement area near, and around a pier, the fortunes of the area have waxed and waned over the years. Once the pier jutted out 3 times as far as today, but the enemy of many seaside amusement areas, storms and fires, have conspired to leave the place a shadow of it’s heyday’s heights. It’s now nothing but a broken palace with a decidedly seedy undertone. There are just a small number of amusements still standing, but plenty of t-shirt shops and tattoo parlors. If you every get there, do get some pier fries (only from the one near the pier not on the pier), douse them with vinegar, sprinkle some salt, on ‘em, and sit looking at the water eating them. As good as it gets.
Anyway, Old Orchard, commonly called OOB (Oh Oh Bee), by locals, has had a long amusement history starting at the turn of the century. Here is a quality view of Peck’s Prancing Ponies, a steeplechase ride where riders sat astride mechanical horses and raced each other. Riders can be seen at left, just coming up the last hill, into the end run turn, which you see before you. The station and lift hill are seen on the right.
Our next OOB card is a nice close up of riders on The Caterpillar ride. Another ride common to parks from the 20’s to the 60’s, but rarely seen today, The Caterpillar goes around with small hills, as you can see, but the green fabric that is can be seen here circling around the inside of the ride, would come over the riders like a canopy, sealing them in total darkness, as the ride continued spinning. Finally the canopy would uncover, and it would be time to debark. Canobie Lake Park in Salem, NH, a park my wife and I try to visit at least once a year, still has a working Caterpillar ride. I can’t ride it, though. They don’t nickname these type of rides spin and pukes for no reason. This card was posted in 1928.
The next card, also from OOB is a beautiful real photo card that I completely lucked upon on eBay. There are tons of OOB cards, most of them are “commons”, cards that you see multiple copies of everywhere, from eBay to flea markets, to postcard shows. There are a few that are rare, however, and this is one of those. I happened to look at an auction that had as its description just the words Old Orchard Beach, starting bid $8. I figured I’d see what crazy common card the seller thought was worth $8. It was this real photo postcard, and a second, real photo postcard showing a different, older roller coaster at OOB. I put it a $25 bid, waited out the two days left, and took both home for $8 plus shipping. To illustrate just how good a deal that was, I had in my collection a reprint real photo of this card that I paid $1 for years ago. It was clearly marked as a reprint, and I sold it on eBay as a reprint. I got $32 for it! If they only knew, suckers!
This next card is not as common as most OOB cards, but still comes up pretty often, which is why it can usually be had for less than $10. Generally a high quality view like this one, with a close up of the station, riders in the train, track work, the brakeman on the platform to the left of the train, the patrons waiting to board, would bring a premium, maybe $20-30, but in this supply and demand collectible world, there’s a lot more supply of this view.
Our last OOB card this month is another real photo card with an all too familiar theme as I stated before. It shows firefighters trying to put out the massive blaze that destroyed the Cyclone roller coaster in 1948. This postcard dates from sometime after 1950, as it has a Kodak back, and that trademark was not used on real photo postcards prior to 1950. Kodak is basically the only company that still produces any real photo cards at all.
This month, our two sideshow cards are of the same performer, The Living Venus De Milo, Frances O’Connor. This beautiful young woman was born in 1914 in Minnesota, perfect in every way but one. She had no arms. Learning to use her feet at an early age as hands, Frances could do most household tasks. She toured, with her mother as her manager in the Al G. Barnes Circus, Cole Brothers, Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey, and the circus she worked for in this card, Sells-Floto. The stamp box marking on this real photo card dates it to no earlier than 1926, when Frances would have been 12. From her looks in the picture, I’d say she was between 12 and 14 , so this card dates from between 1926 and 1930 or so.
As with all of her postcards, Frances always autographed the back of each one with her feet. Her penmanship is astounding considering her situation. This autograph is from the back of this Sells-Floto postcard.
This last card depicts Frances as a slightly older young woman, probably late teens, early twenties. Notice her now wearing a skirt, as to show a bit more leg than was common at the time. This no doubt endeared her to her male audience. In this postcard she holds a glass. Frances was one of the stars of a classic film, Freaks, which was originally released in 1932. The story takes place in a circus sideshow, and director Tod Browning chose to use actual contemporary sideshow performers. In addition to Frances they included such luminaries in the sideshow world as Harry and Daisy Earle, the limbless Prince Randian, Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, Schlitzie the Pinhead, and the so called King of the Freaks, Johnny Eck, the legless wonder.
The type of card will often help one judge its age, as postcard manufacture went through several phases and changes over the years. The terms below will be what I use to describe cards, and will inform you what time frame those cards are from.
Private Mailing Card: 1850’s-1900 Marked on the back as such, only an address allowed on the back.
Undivided Back: 1900-1907 Most cards printed in Germany, address only on back of card, front may have space for message. All cards after 1907 are divided back, meaning both a message and an address may be written on the back
Early Chrome: Mostly German printed cards that have printing to the edges of a photographic image that’s been colored or a drawn image. 1900-1918.
White Border Cards: Mostly American printed starting 1918-1930’s. Generally inferiorly printed, especially the earlier ones, as American printing presses had not yet caught up with the superior German ones. Obviously World War 1 ended German dominance of the then very lucrative postcard printing market.
Linen Cards: These cards are characterized by a thin layer of linen that is glued over the paper prior to printing, giving them a non-smooth surface to the touch. 1940-s-early1950’s.
Chrome Cards: Postcards like you are used to today. Printed photographs on glossy stock. These date from the mid 1950’s until present, and are almost 100% of all new postcards made since the 1970’s. Chrome cards prior to the 1970’s are called Standard Size, which indicates the pre-1970’s postcard size of 3.5 inches by 5.5 inches. Almost all postcards printed since the 1970’s have been 4 inches by 6 inches or what is known as Continental Size. Since I do not actively collect continental sized postcards, all my images are of standard sized cards.
Real Photo Postcard RPPC: This is a card which is an actual photograph printed on actual photographic paper, generally made in limited numbers by small independent photographers. They may date from 1900 until present day, and can be dated approximately by the markings on the back. They are the rarest and most sought after postcards by collectors